Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I don't think I am alone when I say that I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a child. I think a lot of people all over the world probably have dreamt about going up into space and flying around in some sort of space ship. Maybe the type of space ship that those people dreamt about going into space in was different depending on age, current events or popular TV show. In my case, as a child I wanted to blast into outer space on a rocket like those used at NASA. One of my first real memories as a child is about the challenger accident. That didn't stop me from wanting to go up into space though. As I got a little older I started watching more science fiction. Soon I wanted to go up into space in a space craft like that in star trek.

The point of the little rant above is the fact that no matter how similar the dream of going up into space may be, the type of craft that is being dreamt about might be different. For the next generation of kids it might not be a solid rocket booster of today's space crafts or the dilithium crystal of star trek that fuels their fantasies (sorry for the pun). It might actually be a solar sail. To find out more about solar sails check out this.

Last month JAXA launched a test craft to see if solar sails are really feasible. The name of the craft was IKAROS, which stands for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun. That's a mouthful, but obviously they were trying to give a little nod to Icarus (who is actually Ikaros in latin). Why they would want to name a craft that uses wings and the light of the sun to get around after a mythical person that plunged to his death after his wings melted because he got to close to the sun I will never know.

On the 10th, IKAROS got to a distance of 7.7 million kilometers (4.1 million miles) from the earth. It went that far by rocket and without the help of its solar sails because they sails have yet to be unfurled. On the 10th the IKAROS probe started rotating and unfurling its sails. You can see video of what it looked like below.

Not only are the solar sails used to help accelerate the craft in space, but they can also be used like solar panels to produce electricity. The sails should be able to produce enough electricity to power the craft. Now that JAXA has unfurled the sails they have to put the craft though tests of its trajectory controls and navigation. Who knows, if all goes well maybe we will find a new way to putt around outer space.

Any way, it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 軌道(きどう). It is pronounced kidou and it means trajectory. Could someone come up with something snappy having to do with trajectory to put here?

See you next time at JJNN!


  1. I remember when you wanted to be an astronaut

  2. I am no astronaut, but I think the biggest problem for manned space travel is the radiation in outer space which can kill us for long exposure.

    The solar sails are suitable for unmanned spacecrafts. But I dont think solar sail will be sufficient to propel heavy spacecrafts designed to provide cover from radiation.

    Correct me if I am wrong.

  3. You are correct on your point that solar sails are not very optimal for use to propel a manned space craft. I was thinking more along the lines of an unmanned exploration craft. It will be interesting to see what all these tests will bring.